There are two things I'm incredibly good at: Returning items I purchase at stores and selling what I can't return on Craigslist. I'm so good at it, because I HAD to get good at it. Because I was bad at decorating my home. When we first purchased our house four years ago, Mike and I moved in with four items: a bed, a tall white bookshelf, an old beat up desk and an ugly oak dresser. To decorate, I thought we'd go to a large furniture store and purchase a traditional living room set. You know, where you get a coffee table, couch, side tables, chairs and a rug in one fell swoop? It would probably be a combination on tan, red and dark brown. And maybe a little cream thrown in there for good measure. Because it seemed like that's just what you did.
But about three months after we moved in, I discovered the world of home design blogs. Seafoam blue, chartreuse green, poppy red and hot pink - no color was off limits. There were modern, updated fabric prints and patterns out there that I had never even seen before. Couches weren't overstuffed, but still comfortable, coffee tables could be small and made of something other than wood, and your dining room chairs didn't have to match your dining room table. I had honestly never seen anything like it until I started reading blogs. Not that there is anything wrong with purchasing a pre-made living room set at all. That service is there for a reason, and I've seen some very beautiful ones put together.
But the idea of piecing together your home from a variety of stores in any color scheme was a novel one for me. And blogs made it look like DIY decorating was achievable. They broke down how a rug should fit furniture, where to find pretty pillows at an affordable price, how far above your table you should hang your pendant light, and if all else fails: How make something you couldn't afford to buy. I was young and naive and innocent, and motivated to decorate our house from the ground up.
Well, there's no teacher like experience, and I learned a few tough lessons along the way. I made a lot of bad design decisions, the wrong color chair that clashed with my woodwork, a too traditional chair that didn't match my other furniture, purchasing a dining room set I didn't really like with a matching table and chairs just because it was such a good deal, loading up on tchotchkes because they were cheap and interesting but not having any place to put them, and the list goes on. We also received a few home decor wedding gifts that we registered for and picked out before I had lived in the home (Mike moved in before me when we were engaged) that didn't actually work with our 1923 home or my newly discovered design aesthetic, so I had to learn to work with what we had even if I didn't love it any more because my style had changed.
It's been four years since I threw my hat in the ring to learn to intentionally decorate my home and I have grown more than I could have ever imagined, but it's still So. Incredibly. Hard. to decorate well. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, wondering when I'll get good at it. When I won't spend hours looking for the right chair, then still have doubts after I purchase it, not really sure if it works. When I won't want to change my throw pillows every year because I finally found the perfect ones. And when I will finally buy the right curtains on the first try. And the truth is, I don't think I will ever get it all right on the first try, second try or even the third.
Designing is a process and particularly for those of us who are not professionals and have never done it before, it's a LONG one. I think there are a few main reasons for this.
1. As a design novice, it takes time to truly learn what your design aesthetic is. I didn't realize that I was drawn to mid-century design until about a year and a half ago. At first, I kept buying these antique/cottage decor items, because I do like them on their own and like them in other people's houses, but I had to learn that those type of items, don't work as well in my home, nor are they what I truly love. But as someone with no background in design, how would I have learned that but through trial and error? I can look at all the photos on Pinterest that I want, and I may love a room on one of my boards, but that doesn't mean I would love to live in that room. Plus, Pinterest and blogs can be so deceiving. When looking at a photo of a room I loved and wanted to recreate, I would often fail to look at the "bones" of the room - the architecture. Most of those beautiful rooms have huge windows, exposed beams, white woodwork (as opposed to my brown woodwork - that is never allowed to be painted says my husband) and all around amazing architectural detailing. Those things play a HUGE part in the design of the room, and when my home didn't end up looking like the photos, I would be disappointed, not realizing that even if I got the EXACT same furniture, it would never measure up the room, because I live in a completely different type of home. I had to learn (and am still learning) how to get the aesthetic I love in a home that's bones look a lot different than most homes in a magazine.
2. Money, money, money. My mom always said, "We're not poor, we just have other priorities." So it's not that Mike don't have the money to spend on home design, we just choose to spend it elsewhere. I used to get really frustrated with budgets, but now I see them as a challenge and I like them (usually). But having a set budget means you can't just find something you like it and wham, bam you have it in your home. I had to wait for things to go on sale, or keep searching to find a knock off. Like my dining room chairs. There was quite a bit of time that passed between selling my old ones and finding new ones with the look I wanted at the right price. Get the whole story on that, here and here.
Emily Henderson wrote a post (that I can't find now, sorry!) about how even the professionals bring in three or four chair options for client's homes. And when they're styling, they basically bring an entire store of trays, lamps, stools, flowers, vases, books, etc. to try out in the home. And the professionals do this all day, every day! This made me feel so much better about my inability to decide on artwork or a lamp, or any other home item until I see it in my space. There's something about decorating that you often need to see the item at work in your home in person, rather than just on a shelf in a store or in a magazine to really see if it works. And sometimes, I need to live with an item for a while before I truly feel like I can commit to it. If you came over, you'd likely see the tag still on a few items that I'm not sure of - whoops.
True confessions: After I read that article, I started purchasing three or four different versions of the same item (as long as it was free to return) so I could find what works best. I literally ordered five styles of roman shades from JCP at once to test in our living room. And I needed three of each style. Quick mental math there says I had 15 roman shades delivered to my door in one day. No shame. I found the ones I wanted five minutes after I saw them in person and returned the rest to the store. Sorry check-out guy.
I remember growing up, my parents had the same furniture for at least 10 years. And so did all my friend's parents. People maybe switched out a throw pillow here or there, but it didn't seem like anyone did full-on living room makeovers, well, ever. In contrast, I've had a different living room chair three out of the four years we've lived here! Again, the thought, "When will I ever get good at home design?!?" kept ringing in my ears as I sold yet another chair on Craigslist or returned another side table to Target. While I do want to get to a point where I'm not changing the big items quite so often, I think I'll always be tweaking my home in little ways - and I've finally learned to say, that's okay. I've learned to enjoy the process of decorating my home, and to enjoy my home exactly where it's at in the process, rather than wishing it just looked like a finished product all the time. I force myself to still have guests over, even if I don't like the art on the walls anymore or if I'm hemming and hawing over a rug in the the living room. Most people don't even notice, and those that do, probably enjoy design just as much as me and want to discuss my thought process with me.
I've learned that decorating my home isn't just something that I need to do, it's something that I enjoy doing. I like working with my hands and testing out ideas, and I honestly don't mind returning things or painting over a piece of art that didn't turn out. I used to think I was wasting money and time, and while I'll write another day on how I manage to change things up so often without losing money, I had to come to terms with the fact that since decorating my home is something that I enjoy, I'm not wasting time - it's a hobby for me. So just like people play golf, watch T.V. or read books, I surf the web for pillows and decorate my home.
Decorating well is incredibly hard. And with all the resources and inspiration out there these days, it can be easy to get discouraged and depressed when something you thought about for a long time, from all angles, still doesn't turn out right. But be gentle with yourself, remember that even the professionals don't get it right the first time, remind yourself you'll learn through trial and error, and always, always, always, buy things that can be returned.